Last spring, Fenway softball coach Joseph Cheung spent most of the season preaching about effort and positive attitude, which mostly amounted to moral victories to go with only two non-forfeit victories.
Last week, the seniorless Panthers ripped off the program’s first three-game win streak since the team last went to the state tournament in 2008.
“We’re pretty happy with how things have gone,” Cheung said. “Once our team came together, I definitely thought it was possible for us to do well. We have a core of sophomores. Our whole infield is made up of sophomores and one junior but they are all very athletic and play hard and most played last year.”
The Panthers went 4-12 in Cheung’s sixth season last year, including two forfeit victories. They started this season by losing four straight by an average of 11.75 runs. They scored only 22 runs in that span.
But something clicked on April 26 when the team beat Brighton, 18-10. Then it defeated a top-caliber team, New Mission, by a count of 11-3 four days later. After a win over Snowden, 19-5, on May 2, the streak ended with a loss last Friday afternoon to a tough Dorchester team.
“I thought we had a chance to play well, but the most exciting part of the three-game win streak is the defense we played,” Cheung said. “In the New Mission game, we gave up three runs in the top of the first and things were not looking too good but we put up six zeros the rest of the way. The defense was very solid and I was impressed with the way we played.”
Huge catalysts in the turnaround have been the three sophomores on the team — twins Lorena and Laura Escolero and Shamaine Darden — who helped the school’s girls’ basketball team win back-to-back state championships, despite the fact that basketball star Tajanay Veiga-Lee decided not to come out for the team.
“I think it’s a good example,” junior captain Ariana Martinez said of the basketball team. “it shows that we can be as good as they are but in a different sport and I also think the basketball girls on the team, the twins and Shamaine, they help us too because they have that winning mentality and they brought it to us, too.”
Suffering through last season’s losing softball season humbled the three basketball players.
“Learning how to be a winner all the time isn’t the point,” Lorena said. “You have to lose sometimes and work on that and get better.”
Losing provided motivation.
“We already knew we were going to win,” Laura said of the three-game win streak. “It think we deserved it. We worked hard last year and this year.”
But before Fenway could learn how to win on the softball field, the players had to learn the basics of the sport, starting with not being afraid of the ball.
“At first, at the beginning, they were scared of balls and they were scared to catch it, but they’ve tried a lot and have improved,” said Martinez, one of the team’s few juniors, of the sophomore class. “One girl on the team was scared of the ball and she didn’t know where to go when she hit the ball and now this year she’s improved so much and she’s one of the starters sometimes.
“It just takes dedication and practice.”
Now that the basics are under their belts, Cheung is moving on to more advanced topics such as hitting, understanding the strike zone, and protecting the plate.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Cheung said. “The last few years, we were only able to work on the most basic things just because of where we were as a team, but I think now that we have those down, we can work on the more advanced aspects of the game.”
Getting more basketball players to play could help, too.
“If they want to, they can come,” Martinez said. “Yeah.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
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